My brain makes my wife angry
Very interesting post in at LiveScience.com about how we tune some things out and pay attention selectively. Over the years I have had to do a lot of studying, and became pretty adept at focusing on what I needed to read and blocking out everything else. Being married, this ability takes on a certain double-edge, though...
Neuroscience is cool. It turned me into an agnostic, though. When I was in my early twenties, I was a Roman Catholic seminarian. I planned to be a Jesuit priest, so I could get a heapin' helpin' of both science and religion, since Jesuits are often trained in something "worldly" as well as being ordained.
Anyway, one afternoon, during Christmas break, I was home from seminary and in the local public library. I picked up a copy of From Neuron to Brain and began reading. Sometime in the course of reading the book, I realized that the only reason I still believed in God was that I couldn't see how consciousness could be explained without God. I just didn't know much about the problem, having only seen it from the philosophical side in school, where it appeared intractible to me. The instant I got it into my mind that consciousness would succumb to scientific scrutiny, my faith began to erode.
Now, the fact that it was held up by only this thread suggests that it had been in trouble for a while, and indeed it had. I had long gotten over my childhood belief that the Bible was an accurate account of anything, since I could read the official version and see that it was not internally consistent. (I truly wonder about the sanity of anyone who claims that the Bible is inerrant. I don't see how, since it states plainly in many places that two opposite things are true. QED. I would like to head off anyone who would engage in argument on this point by referring them to the Skeptic's Annotated Bible. They use the KJV, but bring your own along, just in case...)
In the course of my adolesence, when my love for science really took hold, I had rejected arguments from authority, or arguments from adverse consequences ('If you don't believe in God, you'll go to Hell!' isn't a reason to believe, it's a threat not credible to someone who doesn't already believe. It is also a favorite 'argument' of preachy types.) After threats and dubious holy books, the final reason to believe is to get along with the group, I guessed, and I had also rejected that as insufficient. But I couldn't account for the 'miraculous' fact that I was meat that had thoughts.
I won't prattle about deconversion and the emotional anguish it causes. There are a lot of good social effects of religion (whoa, atheists, I'm well aware there are plenty of bad ones, too) so I subscribe to a utilitarian view of encouraging whatever good comes out, and denouncing any bad. I don't get any fun out of poking holes in people's worldview (I like Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained, a evolutionary psychology of religion that makes me think that irrationality and religion are inevitable, so I'm not going to waste time fighting anything but the excesses I see. It would be as fruitless as prohibiting sex, I think).
In the past few years, I've been reading what I can of Daniel Dennet and Patricia Churchill. I'm not clearly convinced by Dennet's Consciousness Explained, but I think it may be because people are just not wired to understand the sort of explanation of minds that science can give, or may be able to give as we learn more. It does dispense with a lot of what we intuitively believe, but the result is pretty non-intuitive. Just like we found at the bottom of physics and chemistry with quantum mechanics, a real explanation of consciousness might prove incomprehensible, yet demonstrably accurate.